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Youth of Color Are Key to 2022 Midterms in Arizona

Young voters in Arizona can have a big impact in the 2022 midterms, but barriers to voting create challenges that campaigns and organizations must address.

In the 2022 midterms, Arizona is among the states where young people, ages 18-29, could have an outsized influence on the outcome, according to CIRCLE’s Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI). The index includes data on the youth population, state election laws, projected competitiveness, and other factors that can shape young voters’ participation. In our 2022 YESI rankings, both Arizona’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races rank #2.

In this analysis, we dig deeper into why Arizona ranks highly as a state where youth can have a decisive impact on election outcomes. Our data highlights:

  • Youth voter turnout has been on the rise in Arizona: It increased 16 percentage points (10% to 26%) from 2014 to 2018, and 18 points (33% to 51%) between 2016 and 2020.
  • A diverse young population—potentially harmed by voting laws: Latinos and Indigenous youth are poised to have high electoral impact, but also disproportionately affected by restrictive voting laws.
  • Youth vote choice critical in close elections: Young people in the state favored Joe Biden by a 31-point margin in 2020, a year in which the president won Arizona by less than half a percentage point and incumbent Senator Mark Kelly won by 2.4 points. 

Rising Youth Voter Participation

Young Arizonans have been breaking their own turnout records in recent years. That means more youth than ever are on the voter rolls, which presents opportunities for campaigns and organizations to reach more young voters and continue expanding the electorate. In the recent presidential elections, youth turnout increased by 18 percentage points, from 33% in 2016 to 51% in 2020, despite challenges to voting caused by the pandemic and Arizona’s vote-by-mail policy. Unlike other states, Arizona did not automatically send voters ballots or ballot request forms in the mail in 2020, instead requiring voters to join the state’s Permanent Early Vote List (PEVL) to receive a mail-in ballot. In 2018, youth turnout in Arizona was 26%, a 16-point increase from 2014 (10%).

In that most recent 2018 midterm, the share of all votes in the state cast by youth nearly doubled the 2014 youth share: rising from 6.3% in 2014, to 11.5% in 2018—and growing even further to 16.3% in 2020. This underscores that young people’s influence on Arizona elections, both in presidential and midterm years, is growing. This growth reflects both interest in political engagement from youth in the state, and investment from organizations in Arizona in registering and mobilizing youth. Those investments must continue and expand to reach more youth in 2022.

Restrictive Voting Policies Target a Young, Diverse Population

The youth electorate in Arizona is larger and more diverse than the national average. Latino youth make up 9% of the state’s entire voting-age population. Arizona also has the 7th largest Indigenous population in the country, and young Native Americans make up 1% of the voting age population.

When elections are close, those votes can be decisive. Indigenous communities in Arizona increased their voter turnout in 2020, casting ballots totaling over 5 times the margin of victory in the presidential race in the state. As with all youth in the state, outreach to these communities was and will continue to be critical, especially in order to help them overcome barriers to voting—some of which have intensified after the 2020 election.

Journalists and advocates have reported on various new and ongoing challenges to voting access in Arizona that disproportionately affect Latinos, Native Americans, and other communities of color. These include the shuttering of polling places (which have predominantly closed in Latino-heavy counties), limiting who can collect absentee ballots, and the invalidation of ballots cast at the wrong precincts, all of which place undue burden on Indigenous voters who often live far from locations to deliver ballots, and who are often placed in the wrong precinct because of a reliance on post office boxes as addresses on reservations.

2022 Youth Electoral Significance Index

CIRCLE's 2022 Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI) ranks the Senate, House, and Governor races where young people have the highest potential to influence the results this November.

Unlike most of the other states that top our YESI rankings of potential youth impact, Arizona also rates poorly on facilitative election laws. The state has only one of the four policies we considered in our analysis: online voter registration. It does not have pre-registration, automatic registration, or same-day registration, which research has found can lead to higher youth voter participation.

Legal battles in Arizona threatened to make it harder to vote in the state. Arizona currently has a no-excuse, mail-in voting program, which was challenged but upheld in the state’s supreme court. That keeps in place a policy that can support young voters: in 2020, our research found that, on average, states with no-excuse absentee voting had higher youth voter turnout.

Arizona also has strict voter ID laws that can create barriers for voters, especially newly eligible voters like young people who may not understand the requirements or students who can have a hard time proving their residency at dorms. Arizona has a high percentage of college students in its population: 8% of the state’s population is enrolled in higher education institutions, including Arizona State University and University of Arizona (whose combined enrollments total nearly 100,000 students), Hispanic Serving Institutions (where 26% of Latino students in Arizona attend), and two tribal colleges— each with four campuses. While some members of these substantial student populations may face barriers to voting, colleges and universities can also create important opportunities for political learning and engagement, such as opportunities to register to vote on campus and locally targeted information about how to vote.

Potential Electoral Impact

While young people play a key role in elections whether or not they help swing the outcome, our YESI rankings make it clear that youth in Arizona could be decisive in elections expected to be highly competitive. That’s partly due to the state’s diverse population; while young people across the country tend to favor Democratic candidates, youth of color—who make up a significant portion of the youth population in Arizona—are even more likely to favor Democrats. 

Nationally, Latino youth preferred President Joe Biden by 22 points more than white youth in 2020. And, in Arizona, all 18- to 29-year-olds favored Biden by a 31-point margin, according to exit polling from Edison Research. That was critical in a presidential race decided by just over 20,000 votes in which young voters cast hundreds of thousands of ballots. In addition, more than 250,000 young people in Arizona registered but did not vote; mobilizing them could also have a major impact on election results.

In Arizona’s 2022 U.S. Senate election, Senator Mark Kelly seeks to hold the seat he flipped from Republican Senator Martha McSally by about 79,000 votes in a special election. This competitive race may have been one catalyst for the high turnout in 2020. In the gubernatorial race, Republican Governor Doug Ducey, has reached his term limit, and the race for an open seat is expected to be highly competitive. As a state with a Republican governor that recently voted for President Biden and two Democratic U.S. Senators, the voter preferences of young people could continue to transform the political landscape in Arizona.

Youth in Arizona are already paying attention to the election and issues related to voting access. Last December, students from Arizona staged a hunger strike in support of the federal Freedom to Vote Act and met with Arizona Senator Kirsten Sinema about their concerns. It’s a positive sign that, more than half a year before the midterms, there’s already political attention and action among Arizona youth.. Yet, as our spotlight suggests, challenges to equitable youth engagement remain. In order to fully harness the potential of the youth vote in Arizona this fall, campaigns and organizations throughout the state must continue working hard to reach and mobilize young people, especially the Indigenous and Latino populations who are affected most by restrictive voting laws.


Author: Ruby Belle Booth